Informal expert meeting on strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
Norway is hosting an expert meeting on explosive weapons in Oslo on 17-18 June. It is a follow up to the expert meeting hosted by Chatham House with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and will look at the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and at how to provide greater protection to civilians. The meeting is by invitation and includes experts from states, international organisations and civil society including members from the International Network on Explosive Weapons.
The issues that will be discussed at the meeting include:
- The humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas;
- Types of explosive weapons and their impact, with a focus on explosive weapons with wide area effects;
- Populated areas and the challenges posed by fighting in populated areas;
- Protection provided to civilians during conflict under international humanitarian law;
- Policy and other steps taken on this issue to date and additional policy measures that can be taken to better protect civilians from the effects of explosive weapons;
- Practical and operational measures that can help to better protect civilians from the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The impact of explosive weapons on civilians emerged as a key concern from a series of meetings that the Norwegian government hosted on “Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians Under International Humanitarian Law”. In May 2013, at the final conference of this initiative attended by 94 states, the Co-Chairs’ summary stated that: “the use of explosive force in military operations in densely populated areas has devastating humanitarian consequences for civilians. In particular, the use of explosive weapons with a wide area effect should be avoided”.
The issue of explosive weapons has also been raised by the UN Secretary-General including in the 2012 and 2013 Reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, where he urged parties “to refrain from the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with a wide-area effect” and called on states to address this issue. In 2011, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that, “due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects and despite the absence of an express legal prohibition for specific types of weapons, the ICRC considers that explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in densely populated areas.”
The International Network on Explosive Weapons is calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as reflected in INEW’s call.
By holding this meeting, it is hoped that states will establish a distinct track of work on military use of explosive weapons with wide area effects. This issue would benefit from broader ownership amongst states and a recognition by states that the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects should be avoided in populated areas.
INEW supports further expert meetings taking place in 2014 and 2015 to discuss adequate responses to this problem, including working towards establishing a political instrument to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas in order to reduce civilian suffering. Important first steps to addressing this issue includes compiling and analyzing examples of existing policy and practice amongst states on the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict,” UN Security Council, S/2013/689, 22 November 2013, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/689
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts, October 2011, 31IC/11/5.1.2